This post isn’t actually a advertisement or special endorsement for any particular brand, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing, and much of the focus has been on Google and some form of virtual business. Through all of the research, I’ve discovered how Google can truly transform a small business.
Most of us conduct our business virtually on some level, and it’s possible that you are one of those who do most or even all of your business virtually. What I mean by virtual is not physically connected – it can be virtual employees, or perhaps you are into cloud computing. Even larger companies like Intuit, Inc. conduct a portion – as much as is possible, actually – virtually, allowing employees and even managers to work from home.
As a small business, you could get away with running a 100% virtual office if you wanted to. In fact, you could get away with skipping the purchase of expensive laptops and swap them out for inexpensive Kindle Fires, for example. How so? Don’t you need a computer?
Not really. All you really would need is a tablet with an Internet connection… and Google. Throw in a free, local Google telephone number, and you’ve just set up your virtual office.
1. Use Google Docs to Create, Store, and Distribute Documents
Have you looked into the cost of Microsoft Office lately? If not, you might be surprised to discover that a nice, legal copy of MS Office will cost you about $800. Yep.
Do yourself a favor and check out Google Docs. Not only does Google Docs as a system open, edit, and save in formats that are completely compatible with MS Office, you don’t need to store these files on your computer. You can get away with not needing a hard drive to store and retrieve your documents when you use Google Docs.
It also takes collaboration to a new level.
2. Use Google Calendar to Schedule Meetings, Share Files, and Promote Events
Google Calender is a highly under-utilized tool by those who are simply unfamiliar with all that it can do. Did you know that you can create an event on your Google Calendar, embed it into your website, and keep track of attendees? And because it’s a Google tool, it’s integrated with the other Google tools like gmail and docs.
With Google Calendar Labs, you can enable attachments for your events/meetings, just like you can with MS Outlook – a very nice mail and calendar tool that comes with the hefty price tag of MS Office. The Labs feature also has a tool called Smart Rescheduler, which allows you to avoid scheduling conflicts when you schedule meetings with others.
3. Use Google Sites As Your Virtual Intranet
Awhile ago, Zoho came out with some really cool tools, including an intranet of sorts that you could use to operate in the cloud. This was before cloud computing was even a buzzword.
Google has a similar range of products, and one of them is called Google Sites. A number of small business owners know about sites because it’s a free website solution. However, you can use sites to create Intranets – networks that only people with special privileges can get access to. This is a great, free way to handle projects with clients, for example (eliminates the need for expensive virtual project management tools), as well as to post information for internal employees only.
4. Use Google Voice to Get a Local Number, Translated Voicemails, and SMS Messages, too
Need a local number? Problem solved. Using Google Voice, you can get a free local phone number that will forward to your phone. You can set up a separate voicemail for it, as well, which will help you create an answering solution that is less expensive and more reliable than hiring someone to do it.
One of the nice features of Google Voice is that when people leave you voicemail messages, Google will attempt to translate them and send them to you in email format. For the most part, it works. So, if you’re working full-time and operating a business on the side, try using Google Voice to take your inbound calls. When you get emails on your smartphone, you can quickly “read” the voicemail messages so you’ll know which ones you need to get back to right away!
Google Voice numbers also accept text (SMS) messages, and as always, you can integrate an easy click-to-call feature in your website people on their mobiles can use to call your Google Voice number instantly. Lastly, you can easily change who the number forwards to. So, if you did hire a VA to take your calls during the day, you could have her or him turn that off and forward back to you when you are back at home in the evening.
5. Use Google Cloud Print to Print Virtually Anywhere
Get this: My MOM was using Cloud Print before I had even heard of it. Cloud Print is a great way to setup and use wireless printers in your home easily (again, my mom did this without my help) but it’s also a way to equip your employees, customers, and anyone else with a printer that you’ve set up for them to use.
I can see so many uses for Cloud Print that it could stand to have an article on its own. Check it out for yourself at google.com/cloudprint/learnmore.
6. Google+ for the Virtual Office: TBD
Google+ has two great features: circles, and hangouts, which I can see working out really nicely for virtual businesses. Let me know if you currently use Google+ for business – not marketing, specifically – and I’m going to do a follow-up on that.
What other tools do you use to conduct your business virtually? Or, do you prefer a physical, rooted office and business?
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